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MIDDLETOWN - With its biggest game of the season hanging in the balance, the Mater Dei Prep football team decided to call a play that quarterback Alex Brown had never run in a game and, by the junior signal-caller's estimation, had never practiced at more than 50-percent speed in practice.

Seraphs senior wide receiver Naran Buntin, however, knew the play would work. After all, it was the play that won Mater Dei its first state championship four seasons ago.

Buntin took a pitch from fellow senior receiver Kody Gibbs on the back-end of a hook-and-lateral and raced up the left sideline for a 57-yard, game-winning touchdown with 27 seconds left and the Seraphs - ranked No. 5 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - stunned No. 4 Rumson-Fair Haven, 26-19, on Saturday.

The play was the same one head coach Dino Mangiero called on the penultimate play of the 2016 NJSIAA Non-Public Group II championship, which resulted in Eddie Lewis scoring the winning touchdown of a 26-20 Seraphs win over Holy Spirit. The win gave Mater Dei its first NJSIAA championship in Mangiero's first season at the helm.

Buntin and Brown said they had both seen the play from 2016 multiple times while Gibbs said he had never seen it, nor did he know Mater Dei won a state championship on the same play.

Mater Dei senior Naran Buntin. (Photo by Richard O'Donnell)

"It always works in practice because we just walk through it - we never fully ran through it," Buntin said of the play. "Coach knows what he's doing, so we liked the call. I wasn't expecting it, but I was kind of hoping he called something like that."

"Every game is different, but it definitely gives you confidence (running the play) knowing it won them a state championship," Brown said.

The circumstances were slightly different Saturday on Mater Dei's home field. There was more time on the clock this time around, but the situation was more urgent for the Seraphs, which trailed, 19-18, and used their final timeout while facing a 3rd-and-12 from their own 43 yard-line.

Needing a first down to keep the drive alive and a field goal to in the game, Mater Dei put the ball in the hands of Brown, who put the ball in the hands of Gibbs after a short dropback.

"In the back of my mind, I thought they could call the hook-and-ladder or another trick play," Brown said. "But honestly, I didn't think it was going to be the call. I was surprised but we were all in."

Gibbs caught the ball 14 yards from the line of scrimmage and, as he was wrapped up for a tackle, pitched it back to Buntin, who was sprinting against the flow of the play. The exchange was clean and Buntin blew by the remaining Rumson secondary to score the go-ahead touchdown.

"The key is the curl route," Buntin said. "It sucks the defenders up. I come around with the drag (route) and Tafari (Thompson), our tight end, comes around to block the first person he sees and I'm off to the races."

Gibbs said he made a last-minute adjustment when he knew his quarterback might be in a hurry.

"It's supposed to be a 12-yard curl route, but my quarterback was under pressure, so I cut it short," Gibbs said. "Then as I was getting tackled, I managed to toss the ball to my guy Naran Buntin, and he was right there when I needed him."

A pass interference on the ensuing two-point conversion moved the ball a yard closer and junior Maurice Hinton plowed in for the extra two points.

Mater Dei's defense pushed Rumson to 4th-and-1 from the Seraphs 46 with one second left and tackled senior running back John Volker after a 14-yard gain that ended the game.

Buntin's touchdown ended a wild fourth quarter, which included another big catch by the Kent State commit. After a crucial 4th-and-2 conversion on a five-yard run by Hinton, Brown lofted a pass down the left sideline that Buntin hauled in at the five yard-line with a leaping catch.

"That was the momentum shift," Buntin said. "(Assistant) coach Chris Parker spends a lot of time on getting up. Run your route, get your foot in the ground, get up and go get the ball. We come down with it or nobody does."

Two plays later junior running back Ra'Jahn Cooper carried the ball across the goal-line for a three-yard touchdown that put Mater Dei ahead, 18-13, with 4:25 left to play.

Rumson answered by marching into Mater Dei territory, but a sack by Michigan commit Dom Giudice made it 4th-and-12 from the Bulldogs' own 48. Instead of thinking over its fourth-down call with two minutes remaining, Rumson hurried back to the line, snapped the ball and senior quarterback Josh Harmon fired a pass to wide-open senior tight end Luke Devlin over the middle for a 52-yard touchdown completion.

Rumson failed to convert the two-point conversion, but took a 19-18 lead with 1:58 left on Devlin's second touchdown of the game.

"I'm just thinking, I'm going to go down there and I'm going to score, no matter what happens," Brown said. "I'm going to anything I possibly can to get these guys open, to get these first downs, get out of bounds and keep driving."

With 9:29 left in the fourth, Harmon hit Devlin for an eight-yard touchdown pass to cap a five-play, 50-yard drive and put Rumson ahead, 13-12, following Justin Worobel's extra point - the first made extra point of the game after three combined misses by the two kickers.

Mater Dei broke a 6-6 tie in the middle of the fourth when Brown hit senior Kyree Drake for a 57-yard touchdown over the middle of the field. Brown officially finished 9-for-13 with 138 yards and Drake with 71 yards on three catches.

Mater Dei took the lead on the first play of the second quarter - a 31-yard jet sweep by Gibbs on which he went untouched. Sophomore Christian Buchanan intercepted Harmon on the next possession and after the Bulldogs got rolling on their next possession, the defense forced a fumble to take over on the Rumson 28.

After getting shutout in the first half, Rumson eventually answered five minutes into the third quarter with a 12-play, 65-yard drive that finished with a two-yard touchdown run by Harmon, who hit senior receiver Patrick Jamin for a 28-yard completion to the Mater Dei 12 on 3rd-and-11.

After forcing two turnovers in the first half, Mater Dei came up with another big takeaway late in the third when Cooper picked off Harmon at the Seraphs 39.

Since losing to Red Bank Catholic on opening night, Mater Dei Prep has ripped off four straight wins as the the top teams in the Shore Conference try to position themselves for a postseason that is still not settled - both in its format and its participants.

"In my high school career, this is the biggest win I have had so far," Brown said. "As a team, this is going to push us to the end of the season and through the rest of the year to mount off this energy and keep winning."

 

Box Score

Mater Dei Prep 26, Rumson-Fair Haven 19

RFHMDP
First Downs2013
Rushes-Yards37-17129-68
Passing10-19-29-13-0
Passing Yards179182
Fumbles-Lost1-10-0
Penalties-Yards4-3513-97

 

1234F
Rumson (3-2)0061319
Mater Dei (4-1)0661426

 

Scoring Summary

M - Kody Gibbs 31-yard run (kick missed)

R - Josh Harmon 2-yard run (kick missed)

M - Kyree Drake 57-yard pass from Alex Brown (kick missed)

R - Luke Devlin 8-yard pass from Josh Harmon (Justin Worobel kick)

M - Ra'Jahn Cooper 3-yard run (pass failed)

R - Luke Devlin 52-yard pass from Josh Harmon (pass failed)

M - Naran Butin 44-yard run on lateral from Kody Gibbs after 13-yard pass from Alex Brown (Maurcie Hinton run)

 

Individual Statistics

Rushing - R: John Volker 24-113, Geoff Schroeder 6-41, Josh Harmon 7-17; M: Naran Butin 1-44, Ra'Jahn Cooper 9-41, Kody Gibbs 3-20, Maurice Hinton 3-13, Alex Brown 14-(-6)

Passing - R: Justin Harmon 10-19-2 179; M: Alex Brown 9-13-0 138

Receiving - R: Luke Devlin 2-60, Patrick Jamin 3-58, Geoff Schroeder 4-47, John Volker 1-14; M: Kyree Drake 3-71, Naran Butin 3-41, Kody Gibbs 3-26

Interceptions-Return Yards - M: Christian Buchanan 1-0, Ra'Jahn Cooper 1-0